To Those Who Stay
A fellow writer just posted piece about moving away, and about staying in the place where you are born and where you grew up, to be then constantly confronted with the child you once were, the person you became, every mistake and misstep, every wrong turn, all there in the memories of the people who also stayed, so that you are never free of the innocence, the arrogance, the defiance that at different stages defined you.
I moved away, and now I write almost exclusively about where I came from, the geographic, the physical, the familial and the familiar, as well as the life and lives I left back there. As I grow older, I find myself missing the geography as much as the people I left. That is odd to me, to long as earnestly and deeply for the pines and the wide muddy, river as I do for childhood friends and even relatives, those who never moved away.
I think it is much braver, and harder, to stay, to be reminded of all the different evolutions. To live with people who have embarrassing photos of you, who know you were the one who pushed so-and-so in the mud hole, you were the one who did this or that bad thing. You can’t escape those former yous, and you also never escape knowing everything about the people you still live among, the boy who whispered dirty words to you in the fourth grade who now treats you for high blood pressure. The girl who bullied you mercilessly may now be you Sunday School leader, or your pastor. When you take your car in for servicing, the mechanic is the creepy guy with perpetual dandruff who stuttered, and nobody liked him.
When one of my sisters was in the hospital having a baby, I went home to visit her. Her nurse was one of my former high school students, one I nearly flunked. She saw me, her eyes widened, and she said, “Don’t worry, Miss Norris, I promise I made straight A’s in nursing school!”
I am safe, having moved away from my former self, from the people who know all my secrets and misdeeds.
Yet it calls to me, that place, those years spent there, the trees, the wisteria and the azaleas, the creeks and the catfish, the gardens full of okra and peas, butterbeans and tomatoes.
I leave you with one of my favorite pictures, the perspective from my mother’s back porch.